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Work-in-progress Rays come up short again 6-3

Manager Hal McRae is positive, despite witnessing most of the reasons he wound up with his new job.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- At his introductory news conference Wednesday, manager Hal McRae drew chuckles when he said all the Rays had to do to improve was "catch it, throw it and hit it better."

Three games later, it's no laughing matter.

The Rays were beaten again Friday, 6-3 by Baltimore, their third loss for McRae, their fifth in a row overall and their 13th in 17 games.

As has been the case many of the nights, the Rays hurt themselves with fundamental mistakes -- shortstop Felix Martinez made a key error, starter Bryan Rekar couldn't get through five innings, and Greg Vaughn struck out twice in game-tying situations.

Adding to the festivities, the announced attendance was 13,013, the smallest at Tropicana Field since Sept. 29, 1999, and the sixth smallest of the Rays' three-plus seasons.

But, on this night anyway, McRae said he liked a lot of what he saw.

"It was a loss, but encouraging," McRae said. "And we didn't quit, and I think that's important. The record's not good, we've lost more games than we've won and we haven't won in a while, so it's important that the guys don't quit."

He liked the way they came back from 5-0, getting the tying run to the plate in the seventh and again in the ninth.

"We had a chance, and that keeps the juices flowing," McRae said. "Even though we lost, I feel good inside because we played a game. We came up short, but sometimes when you lose, you don't have a good feeling. You say, "We didn't do anything. We just showed up. We had no chance. We weren't aggressive. We weren't this. We weren't that.' Tonight we did a lot of good things, a lot of good things."

He also liked the way they took chances on the bases, even though Gerald Williams was thrown out at third by Delino DeShields to quash a first-inning rally, and the way they made "good, heads-up, thinking plays," such as Williams and Martinez dropping bunts because the Orioles had Jeff Conine, a first baseman and outfielder, playing third.

"If we play like that consistently, good things are going to happen," McRae said.

The Rays got down in the fourth, Baltimore's rally starting when the usually silk-handed Martinez booted what should have been a routine double-play grounder, a play McRae said caused Rekar to lose his composure. David Segui singled in one run, Rekar hit Chris Richard and Jay Gibbons ripped a double to right that made it 4-0.

"I missed it," Martinez said. "I don't know what happened. It took a hop and hit up on my glove. Every play is tough. Sometimes the easy ones. I can't remember the last time I missed a ground ball like that."

The Orioles expanded the lead to 5-0 in the fifth, knocking out Rekar, who said, "I was trying to do a little too much." But the Rays, held to five hits for six innings by Willis Roberts, a 25-year-old making his first major-league start, came battling back.

Having scored once in the sixth on a Ben Grieve double, his first RBI since April 11, they got two in the seventh when Vinny Castilla snapped an 0-for-28 streak with a leadoff double. Martinez, who matched a career high with four hits, delivered a run-scoring single, and Russ Johnson drove in Martinez. That led to Vaughn's first chance to tie the score, but he went down swinging.

Segui homered in the eighth to bump the Orioles' lead to three again, but the Rays got the tying run to the plate in the ninth. Martinez bunted his way on, tying a club record with six consecutive hits, and pinch-hitter Steve Cox, in a 13-pitch at-bat, drew a walk from closer Ryan Kohlmeier.

Vaughn, after a couple of mighty cuts, was out looking at a strike-three slider, his 24rd strikeout in 62 at-bats.

"They count on me big time, I'm right in the middle of the order, I get paid to drive in runs and come through in those situations and so far I really haven't," Vaughn said. "It's a little frustrating stint I'm in right now. But it'll turn."

Essentially, McRae feels the same way about the team.

"The guys didn't quit tonight," he said. "We battled and we had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. We had the right guy up and he took some terrific swings. He was very aggressive trying to do his job. We just came up short."

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